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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 6th, 2014
04:31 PM ET

Bergdahl's friend, fmr. comrade: He served with honor, until he deserted us

(CNN) – Former Army Spc. Gerald Sutton, a platoon mate and friend of Bowe Bergdahl, describes the man he met back in 2009 as nice, someone who kept to himself, but "seemed like one of the guys."

For his newly-freed, one-time friend, he has just one pressing question.

"The biggest question I want to ask is: Why?" said Sutton. "If he still considers me a friend, was he just lying to me the entire time? If it was pre-planned? But overall the big question, if I could get an answer to (it), is why?"

Sutton served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan, and remembers a conversation he had with him three days before he disappeared.

"He asked me what it would be like to be lost in the mountains. Or do you think I could make it to China, India, or something far East on foot from where we were in Afghanistan?" recalls Sutton. "I really thought it was just a joke."

It also seemed like it was a joke to Bergdahl, who laughed after Sutton laughed. But "maybe that was his subtle way of telling me goodbye," says the former Army specialist.

To Sutton's knowledge, and to platoon mates he has asked, Bergdahl had not wandered off base before the night he disappeared. But an Army investigation found Bergdahl had previously wandered off or disappeared – once in basic training in Irwin, California, when he slipped away to watch the sun set, and again after arriving in Afghanistan, when fellow soldiers said he took a stroll outside the wired perimeter of his outpost, according to a U.S. military official briefed on the report.

Sutton also asked several comrades about a note Bergdahl reportedly left behind, but "none of us can remember anything about any note being left behind."

National Security Adviser Susan Rice has come under fire by critics for saying Bergdahl served with honor and distinction.

"He served with honor and distinction up until June 30," said Sutton. "But then when he left us and deserted us, that honor and distinction – it went away at that point."

Sutton disagrees with several of his comrades who claim attacks on the base becoming more precise were related to Bergdahl's disappearance.

"As a unit stays in country for a longer period of time, placement of IEDs always changes. So that could just be a part of it, that we were there for a certain amount of time," said Sutton.

"It could be a number of different things, and to say that it was Bergdahl alone, that he's the main factor, that's kind of a powerful statement, and we need some serious evidence to back that up," he said.

Many lawmakers have criticized the deal to swap Bergdahl for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.

For his part, Sutton says he is "happy that we're getting an American back." The deal, says the former Army specialist, is "far beyond me ... That's politics, something I do not know anything about, really."

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